Inside the herpetology collection
A jar of snake specimens
Most of the museum's reptile, amphibian and fish specimens are kept in jars, along with ethanol to preserve them. These collections contain nearly one million specimens that provide vital information to biologists doing research in areas ranging from evolutionary patterns to locomotion to conservation. Here are some interesting facts about our collections:
1.We try to keep the fluid collections in relative stasis in regard to temperature and humidity. The goal is 65 degrees F and 50% relative humidity. In practice, however, the temperature is fairly steady but the relative humidity varies quite a bit.
2.The oldest specimen in the herpetology collection is Ceratophrys aurita, KU 98129, collected in Brazil in 1863. It, however, is an exchange specimen. The oldest specimen collected by a museum affiliate is a Thamnophis elegans from New Mexico, KU 2408, collected in 1880. The oldest specimens collected in Kansas are two copperheads and a massasauga from Franklin county in 1888. The history of specimen collecting for these collections has been steady ever since. There are 60 specimens collected prior to 1900.
3.The specimen with catalogue number 'KU 001' is Alligator mississippiensis. The specimen is on display in the panorama at present for the Adopt-A-Specimen exhibit.
4.The sheer volume of ethanol used in the collection is impressive. We have a 1795 gallons for amphibians, and about 1875 gallons in large specimen tanks. The reptiles utilize about 1500 gallons. That's a 5,170 gallon capacity for reptiles and amphibians. Double that in fishes, and add a touch for the others. For everything together, 12,000 gallons total is a reasonable estimate. Of that, a substantial amount of space in the jars is taken by specimens and air, so we would actually have about 8,000 gallons of 70% EtOH (ethanol) in the wing. That's about 5,600 gallons of Ethanol (about 102 drums), significantly less than a typical residential swimming pool.
Two M.Sc. students in the Chaboo lab presented posters on their research at the annual meeting of the the Entomological Society of America, Knoxville, TN, 11-14 November 2012. The ESA is the largest professional entomological organization in the world, and the annual meeting is a great place to contact other entomologists. Mabel and Sofia were able to get feedback and ideas to improve their research, while catching up many interesting talks in beetle systematics, genomics, climate change, and fieldwork.
Sofia Muñoz (MA student, mentor Chaboo), is one of 20 students in the U.S. selected to participate (fully funded) in a NSF-funded Thematic Collections Network Short Course on Biological Specimen Informatics, at the Richard Gilder Graduate School, American Museum of Natural History, New York, in May 2013.
Sofia, Marianna Simões, and Mabel Alvarado presented their research at last weekend's annual meeting of the Kansas Entomological Society, Pittsburg, KS. Caroline and Matt Gimmel also presented a poster, "Beetle families of Peru."
Mabel (co-mentored by Michael Engel) and Victor Baruch Arroyo-Peña (mentor Jorge Soberón ) won third place for their poster, "Problems in the usage of historical data: experiences based on modeling data of the genus Alophophion Cushman, 1947 (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae: Ophioninae)."
After a fast paced semester, Stop Day is an exclamation point between formal classes and exams. In spring, exam week is followed by another exclamation point: Graduation weekend. This is a particularly special one as five undergraduates in my lab are graduating. KT and Joe have been here the longest, over two years. Now they fledge, going off to the Peace Corps and to graduate school respectively. Tom, Reed, and Riley are also heading off to graduate school or research labs. So very special to see them at this great junction in life. And particularly poignant to meet their parents for the first time. We, parents and teachers, have helped them thus far on their journey and now we must take our positions in the back.
The end of the semester is approaching fast, with finals just around the corner. Everyone in the lab has made significant strides this semester. Choru passed his comprehensive exams and is now ABD. Mabel presented her paper, ‘Ten new species of Triclistus’, at the Central States Entomological meeting, in Jonesboro, AK; this is her 3rd manuscript this year. Sofia has worked out the protocols and is accumulating PCRs for the first plate of sequences for her project. After submitting grant submissions throughout the semester, then waiting and waiting, Sofia, Mabel and Choru were excited to receive today's successful award news; these grants are critical to carrying out fieldwork in Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Mexico, Nicaragua, and U.S.A. this year.
Undergrad researchers Reed, Tom, Joe and Riley are getting acquainted with the process of manuscripts – responding to reviews. Dan accepted a tenure track position at Stephen F. Austin University in Texas, to start Aug 1. Matt’s monograph from his dissertation research passed review. He continues identifying new families in the Peru beetle samples — a new discovery today, Lutrochidae (travertine beetles), likely a new species.
In contrast to these guys, the lab PI has been such an underachiever!
Our exhibition, ‘39 Trails: research in Amazon Peru’ (http://www.spencerart.ku.edu/exhibitions/39-trails.shtml) in the KU Spencer Museum of Art, opened Mar 22. It is so gratifying and wonderful to see the student-produced sculpture, biological prints, photos, insect displays, the creative writing essays, the blog, and the brilliant insect-themed comic book.
It is the day before classes begin, and I start teaching Intro Systematics (with Dr. Mark Holder and TA Taro Eldredge). Quite exciting to see the 45+ names of enrolled students, review my lecture, and refine the syllabus and lecture notes before we circulate to students.
A new student, Ms. Sofia Munoz from Quito, Ecuador, has joined my lab this semester to pursue M.Sc. research in chrysomelid systematics. The first semester of graduate school is always stressful, and everyone in the division will try to make this an easy transition for Sofia. Welcome to Lawrence, to KU, and to KU-Entomology!
Dr. Patricia Alvarez, plant ecologist and post-doc at Duke University, visited the Chaboo lab Nov 24-29. Patricia and Caroline participated in a 2008 NSF-funded PASI workshop "Interdisciplinary Studies in Tropical Chemical Biology", Lima and Tambopata, Peru. Since then, we have been trying to combine our research disciplines to examine questions of insect-plant interactions on the south-eastern Andean slopes of Peru. During her visit, we planned our 2012 fieldwork in Peru!
SEP attendees viewing the Gimmel & Chaboo poster
Luis Figueroa at the SEP congress
Members of the Chaboo lab made presentations at the 54th Peruvian Congress of Entomology, organized by the Peruvian Entomological Society (SEP), during November 5-8, 2012, in Cusco, Peru. Graduate student Mabel Alvarado presented two posters, “Diversidad del genero Ophion (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae: Ophioninae) en la Zona Reservada Udima, Cajamarca, Perú” [co-author Luis A. Figueroa, Diversity of the genus Ophion (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae: Ophioninae) in Udima Reserve, Cajamarca, Peru] and “Tres nuevas especies del genero Ateleute Förster (Hymenoptera, Ichneumonidae, Cryptinae) con claves para las especies del Nuevo Mundo” [Three new species of genus Ateleute Förster (Hymenoptera, Ichneumonidae, Cryptinae) with a key to the New World species]. Drs. Matthew Gimmel and Caroline Chaboo also presented the poster, “Las familias de Coleópteros de Perú” [Beetle families of Peru]. We thank Luis for his great help in so many ways with our field research in Peru and in getting our posters to the meeting.
Caroline Chaboo organized a workshop to train participants in developing online identification species keys using the software, LUCID (Lucid.com). The event was sponsored by Florida A & M University, and led by my FAMU colleagues, Drs. Wills Flowers and Muhammed Haseeb, who teach this workshop frequently. Twelve participants from KU, K-State and Stony Brook U. spent the entire day working together in the KU insect lab getting introduced to the software (morning session) and developing keys (afternoon). We ended a wonderful day joined by colleagues coming into Lawrence for the annual meeting of the Central States Entomologists.
When a chief of police contacts you about insects and dead bodies, a good entomologist hopes that her skills are badly needed to solve the crime of the century…that the insects found on the body are clues to the time and place of death. One of the critical roles of insects in any ecosystem is to break down dead bodies, and this is what they naturally do with any carcass. The first handbook for coroners was written by Song Ci in 13th century China; since then, this field has become professionalized and there is even a North American Forensic Entomology Association. One CSI team member is a forensic entomologist and a real life expert is a consultant for the series (us bug people are hyper-alert to these parts the show!). But back to my police chief. He sent me some photos and sure enough, a carcass….of a dead bird in western Pennsylvania. Riddled with lovely beetles doing their thing: eating it up!
These were Nicrophorus of the family Silphidae, but the species identification would require close examination of the the orange pattern on the elytra (hind wings). They were not Nicrophorus americanus, which is commonly called the endangered burying beetle as it is found in less than 10% of its historic range of distribution. Nicrophorus beetles show an unusual behavior of elaborate parental care: the carcass becomes the site of courtship, and the male and female bury the carcass so they and their offspring can feed. Aren’t insects bizarre and wonderful?